The 18th entry in a series of Friday Forgotten Books
Leo Bruce (stories date from 1950 to 1956), compiled and with an introduction by Barry Pike, Academy Chicago Publishers, hardcover © 1992, mass market edition 1997
Rupert Croft-Cooke didn’t acknowledge his pseudonym of Leo Bruce in his lifetime, except for an occasional hint in his twenty-seven volumes of autobiography, an amazing fact in itself.
The majority of these tales – many of them very short – were written for the London Evening Standard newspaper, where they appeared between 1950 and 1956. As a writer of the classic detective novel, Bruce is considered by many to be in the front rank. His Case for Three Detectives remains a classic – if little known – work in the field. (see the September 18, 2009 post on the blog).
Along with the novels featuring Beef and Bruce’s other primary protagonist, Carolus Deene, these stories complete the oeuvre of a detective novelist considered by some to be one of the better of his times.
Bruce has a gift for easy, believable, entertaining dialogue, but the real attraction here is character. My favorites are the stories featuring Sergeant Beef, they are a little longer and, I think, more cleverly assembled. Many are quite cunning, some will have an outcome obvious to any mystery reader, but that won’t keep the reader from turning the pages. Many of the stories in the latter half of the book are quite short, some only four or five pages. Bruce stops a story when he has told enough of it, rarely continuing on for the sake of additional verbage or “finish”. No lengthy explainations to a room full of suspects here, no indeed.
Even the slightest of the stories is deft and telling, skillfully narrated with economy and point. The best are worthy additions to the canon, elegant, clever and satisfying.
There are twenty-eight stories in this book, only two of which were previously collected: ten feature Sergeant Beef, eight feature Sergeant Grebe, and ten have no series character. They add to our knowledge of Sergeant Beef, a very colorful of fictional detective whose full-length cases are too few in number. We’re also introduced to the astute and resourceful policeman Sergeant Grebe; a delightful character that I wish Bruce had more fully fleshed out.
These stories are great fun, and we’re fortunate to have them in print from Academy Chicago Publishers. The complete listing for Bruce books in print from ACP is found here.